Five Things I Appreciated about 'Onward'
-- Support The Loftus Party via our Patreon account. --
Pixar’s latest feature film, Onward, debuted this weekend and made its way to the top of the box office pretty quickly.
This teenage comedy about family and adventure, set in the modern-day suburbia that evolved from a classic fantasy realm, has really hit a chord with viewers and has so far grossed more than $67 million worldwide. I was able to take my family to see it on opening weekend, and there was plenty to love in this film.
Here are five things that I really appreciated.
The Emphasis on Family...and Fatherhood
The importance of a father figure in a kid’s life was front and center in Onward, as brothers Barley and Ian Lightfoot (Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) work to unbotch a spell that would bring their deceased father back for just one day. Naturally, there’s a race-against-time happening with a tear-jerking conclusion. The relationship between Ian and Barley was wonderful, especially how older brother Barley's own distant memories of their dad helped Ian cope with never having met him.
This film in no way belittles the importance of mothers, as their mom Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a hero in her own right, not just as a single mother raising two boys, but in a very “fantasy world” type day-saving scenario.
It’s a good thing for kids to see characters who learn the importance of growing up to rely on themselves, but it’s also valuable to know they couldn’t have done it without good role models in their home and elsewhere.
This movie gives centaurs, trolls, pixies, and elves very human and relatable elements, but there were still a few members of the fantasy animal kingdom. Most notable was the Lightfoot family’s pet, “Blazey,” a spunky little dragon with the demeanor of a feisty terrier. With his ever-lolling tongue, he reminded me of another favorite of mine, Dante the Xolo dog from Coco, whether intentional or not. He was great for establishing the make up of a “typical” suburban household, as well as for some quick sight gags, but I think he was very underused. I would have loved to see Blazey come along on the “Quest” with the boys. Heck, we take our dog on road trips all the time. Then, again, ours doesn't breathe fire.
Even if you are done to death with unicorns…and as a mother of two fantasy-loving daughters I got a little tired of them…you’ll love the dirty, vile “raccoons” of the fantasy world the unicorns (or “Pegacorns”) have become. They aren’t in the film very much, but they produced some good laughs. I thought this was a great original take, but my youngest reminded me, if you watched Gravity Falls, you would already know "unicorns are jerks."
Yup, Disney’s going to get to tap into the merchandise market with these things quite bigly.
The Shout-Outs to Fantasy and Sci-Fi Fans
Worldbuilding is always what Pixar does best, and there were more sight gags, Easter eggs, and movie references in Onward than moviegoers could catch in one viewing. They did an excellent job creating a modern day world filled with embellishments of the Medieval fantasy realm, some subtle and some exaggerated.
My personal favorite were the slew of Middle Earth shout-outs from the very obvious Gandolf-like appearance of the wizards, to the Burger Shire serving “Second Breakfast.”
There are also nods to favorite 80s movies (Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Weekend at Bernie’s), and of course the Tor classic books and RPG game art of Dungeons & Dragons.
Finally, the parallels between Pratt’s Barley and Guardians of the Galaxy hero Peter Quill were hard to ignore, including his love for mix tapes and a couple of well placed hidden Infinity Gauntlets. There’s also a very sad, touching moment Barley and Quill have in common, but I’ll try to spare the spoilers.
The Family-Friendly "Simpsons"
What would a Pixar feature be without being preceded by a short film? Instead of a Pixar-made short, Disney decided to celebrate their recent acquisition of The Simpsons with an innocent baby love story, “Playdate with Destiny,” featuring Maggie Simpson.
Now, I cannot stand the idea of Disney buying up other properties and cashing in on something already successful. I think The Simpsons, owned by Fox, are the well-earned legacy of artist Matt Groening, and should remain his without the Disney name attached.
That being said, the short was enjoyable, and showed The Simpsons can produce plenty of laughs without resorting to gross-out, crude humor. Also, it was interesting to see how they pulled off an entire story without having to use any of the show’s amply-paid voice cast.
No matter what you thought of the characters, plot and style of Onward, you have to admire Barley’s beloved steed/van.
The details, flaws, and clunky presence of this vehicle made “her” as endearing as any of the characters. There’s at least one character in most buddy comedies who has a rattly-old party van that eventually everybody ends up in on some destination or another. Guinevere was a perfect example of this, and one of the scenes that got me a little misty dealt directly with the van.
Don’t believe me? See the film and tell me she wasn’t a favorite?
Long may your legend live Guinevere, and yes, go see Onward. It is just good fun.
Header image ©Disney/Pixar